I have not been posting very much lately because I have dedicated myself 100% to the big (or better said, massive) venture that my boyfriend and I have embarked on, that is…. setting up a bed and breakfast in the heart of Tuscany.
After having spent over two years looking for the right property and almost an year to buy it (it’s not as easy as it may sound!), we have finally started the building works to convert the “old” (and somewhat letdown) property into a brand new Tuscan bed and breakfast, keeping the Tuscan tradition very much alive and mixing it with some modern touches.
Not an easy task (and Italian bureaucracy doesn’t definitely help) but we are committed to get to the end….and we are almost there! Though the opening date is not set yet (we estimate before summer 2017), you can follow our progress on Villa San Michele Facebook page(give it a like too!) 🙂
So, whilst the builders dig hard, we do our best and we get on with all the paperwork, the training courses and the jobs that we can do by ourselves: gardening, jet-washing all the outside patios and paths, sanding and varnishing something like 40 wooden shutters (it does take a while) etc….physical work in the Tuscan sun doesn’t feel that hard, after all!
Are thinking about visiting Tuscany and want to know where we are? We are located in a tiny hamlet called Vico d’Elsa, in the municipality of Barberino Val d’Elsa on the Tuscan hills in the Valdelsa area (Florence metropolitan area).
And if you need any suggestions on what to visit near us, just scroll to the bottom of this post and you will get a full list of some of the most beautiful spots in the area (San Gimignano and Siena just to name a few) and their distance from our place! For more details and information on the region, just have a look at my Tuscan posts to get some inspiration.
If you think someone else might be interested in visiting Tuscany in the near future, share the post or visit our Facebook page! I will be extremely grateful 🙂
Let’s face it: sipping a glass of vino rosso overlooking the Tuscan hills is possibly one of the best thing you could do on a sunny day in Italy. While plenty of people choose to visit Tuscany during the summer, the wiser (and the luckier) that can plan to visit out of peak season will be pleasantly surprised by the peacefulness of one of the richest region in Italy in terms of history and natural beauty paired with great food and wine – and friendly locals! Plenty of people from all over Europe (and the world, I would say) choose Tuscany as their second home, as well. And if you spend a few days in this corner of Italy it’s not difficult to understand why.
Up to a couple of years ago, quite sadly my knowledge of Tuscany was limited to Florence and Siena, two stunning cities that it is impossible not to fall in love with. It is only when I seriously thought of moving here that I started to explore a lot more, discovering some amazing towns, villages and hidden corners of a region that offers absolutely everything for everyone (I still haven’t tested its seaside yet….just waiting for the great weather to start!) Life goes at a much more relaxed pace than life in the north of Italy where I come from and I suppose that is another good reason that it attracts plenty of people from all around the globe, for just a few days or for a lifetime.
As for many regions in Italy, when to visit is the key. In some Italian regions most tourist related businesses completely shut down during the late autumn/winter months until early spring and then become unbearably busy and congested with skyrocketed prices during the peak summer months (mid-June to mid-September) making the whole travel experience less enjoyable and less relaxed.
Probably Tuscany will never feel too congested (with the exception of its main tourist spots) since it’s not too difficult to get out of the main towns and get lost in stunning countryside lanes where you barely meet anyone but it’s no doubt that part of Tuscany’s charm is to be able to enjoy its beauty without stress and without crowds.
Why should you choose to visit Tuscany now? Here are 3 good enough reasons why you should not wait for summer – if you can!
1. It’s very quiet. Unless you like visiting towns and cities surrounded by crowds of tourists, having almost to push to enter to any major tourist attraction, having to queue in any restaurant and having to book your accommodation months in advance to avoid disappointment…THIS (and the late summer too) is the perfect time to visit. Tuscany in general can get very busy but it is also true that – generally – people tend to concentrate in some specific areas: Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano or a bit further down in Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano. As soon as you leave these main cities/towns, you will be pleasantly surprised to notice how some charming and pretty villages barely get any visitors out of season. The big crowds will not arrive until mid June and if you plan smartly you may have a town or a village all by yourself (such as the tiny villages of Monteriggioni, San Quirico d’Orcia or in Bagno Vignoni). A great opportunity to enjoy the peace and the quietness that Tuscany should convey to any tourists.
The same goes for traffic. Whilst traffic in Tuscany is quite an overstatement compared to where I have previously lived (Milan, Madrid, London), during the peak months car parks tend to fill up pretty quickly, roads can get busy (particularly around the big cities, such as Florence and Siena) and make the whole experience less enjoyable, if you are planning to drive (which in Tuscany is undoubtedly the best option to reach some of the most fascinating places). Being quieter, generally also means that you will receive a better service in cafes, restaurants, hotels etc: staff are at the very beginning of their working season and they haven’t got the stress of the whole season on their shoulder – yet!
2. It’s more affordable. Visiting Tuscany in peak season (particularly July – August) can be obscenely expensive. In the main cities (namely Florence and Siena) most businesses that cater to tourists will be open all year round but in the small/mid size towns in the countryside, most businesses will generally close from November to March/April for lack of tourism. This is typical of many regions in Italy (including two other stunning regions like Puglia and Sicily) and unfortunately it is as a real limit of the Italian way of thinking: having more businesses and services open all year round would encourage more tourists to come off-peak, particularly in regions where the weather is reasonably good all year round. Anyway, it’s in this time of the year (March – May) that you should still be able to find good prices. Though it’s true that cities like Florence and Siena are generally expensive all year round, hotels and bed and breakfasts near the most touristy towns (San Gimignano, for example) have far more affordable room rates than the peak season. To save a bit of money, choose an accommodation to use as a base to explore near to the main tourist towns without having to pay the premium of sleeping in it.
3. It’s beautiful. Against this argument you could probably say that “it’s beautiful all year round” and that it’s absolutely true but its beauty is also in its peacefulness and, above all, its colours. Though autumn offers arguably a more interesting palette of colours, spring is the perfect time to visit: trees start to blossom, the air is crisp and clear and days are wonderfully bright. After a long winter (this year actually not so long and cold), sun is finally shining, swifts are out and about, days are getting longer and sunset are getting gorgeous. During day time temperature can go up to 25C, whilst in the evening you will still need a medium weight jacket. Overall: DIVINE!
For more information on accommodation, restaurants and places to visit, have a look at my other posts on Tuscany!
San Gimignano is a cute little town just over half an hour from Florence and Siena. Locals will always complain that is far too touristy for them (and that’s reflected in some establishments’ prices) but nevertheless, everyone fully agrees on one thing: it’s an absolute gem.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit San Gimignano both in summer and in autumn and it’s difficult to choose which is the best season to visit but, price and color-wise, autumn would definitely be my choice; weather should still be sunny and warm, the biggest hordes of tourists have gone (you will still get plenty of day buses, though) and you can get an excellent double room with views right on Piazza della Cisterna for less than 80 Euro at Al Pozzo dei Desideri(we didn’t stay here but we saw all the rooms and they were absolutely lovely!). We stayed in their sister accomodation A Spasso nel Tempo in Via Matteotti, 37. Excellent price, walking distance from the centre of San Gimignano, lovely young and helpful lady at the check in: it was absolutely perfect! They do not offer breakfast but they are walking distance from a couple of cafes/bakery.
Parking in San Gimignano can be expensive and can be an issue, particularly in peak season. Personally, we have never paid car park once there. A few tips where to leave your car for free (if you don’t mind a bit of walking):
If you are coming from Poggibonsi and following COOP supermarket sign, you can try to find a space on the big roundabout and on the roads that goes to San Gimignano.
Coming from Poggibonsi, after the roundabout turn the first road on your left into Via G. Matteotti and go till the end. It’s a residential area and there are always some spaces.
Coming from the SP1, there are some free spaces near a bus stops between Via Martiri di Citerna and Via di Fugnano.
In any case, always check the signs before parking, in case something has changed!
Food-wise, San Gimignano offers plenty of options for all budget. Being such a famous destination, it can get a bit pricey so be careful where you choose if you are not in the mood of splashing out! Eating in the main square (Piazza della Cisterna) is pricey all year round so I would avoid it but, if you’re trying to catch the last autumn rays, it’s a good spot to get them. There or at Enoteca di Vinorum.
Not many places can boasts this stunning view: get a glass of Vernaccia white wine, share a bruschetta (grilled bread with varied toppings) and relax in the sunshine with lovely views on the surrounding countryside. It’s a WOW place, you’ll see what I mean 🙂 For a more substantial meal, head to Ristorante Il Pino: we were recommended this place and it was a great choice. They had a 35 Euro tasting menu lunch that included welcome bubbles, antipasti, local soup ribollita, pappardelle with wild board, tagliata and dessert. We hardly managed to finish it all and we “had” to skip dinner.
On another occasion, we tried Perucáand were not disappointed; their fagottini del contadino (home made pasta filled in with pecorino and pear) and their gnocchi truffle and porcini were to die for. The restaurant is lovely and cosy in a narrow alley in San Gimignano downtown. We tried Osteria I Quattro Gatti (Via Quercecchio, 9) as well for a bowl of pasta and it was a good choice; it’s a nice restaurant with a lovely outdoor romantic area. Recommended for couples.
If you find yourself in San Gimignano on a Friday during summertime, head to Il Museo del Vino (Via della Rocca) for the sunset; for a very small price they offer a tasting of local wines and cheese (what Italians would call aperitivo) on a lovely outdoor terrace. Possibly one of the few things not overpriced in San Gimignano and surprisingly quiet. A walk up to the walls of the city is one of the best free things you can do while in town.
Echoes (Vicolo Mainardi, 10) is another good bet for a good glass of wine and a delicious bruschetta (no outdoor seating though). They may look a bit pricey (for Italians) but believe me they are massive and one could be perfectly shared for lunch. They have over 60 types of toppings so take your time….The owner is a Pink Floyd lover (Echoes…) so with your meal you will get a nice playlist too.
Do not leave San Gimignano without trying the “best gelato in the world” (as they claim) at Gelateria Dondoli in Piazza della Cisterna. Being Italian and having eaten my body weight in gelato, I can truly say it’s one of the best I’ve ever tried! Go for the unsual flavours such as champelmo (champagne and grapefruit), rasperry and rosmary and check out their seasonal new entries. Don’t worry: all gelato flavours are translated in English, so you can’t go wrong but, if you do, it will be still delicious.
When it comes to arrange a visit to San Gimignano, the rule n. 1 is of course to try to visit the town before the hordes of buses and minivans arrive (or just after they leave); a walk in the evening down the narrow alleys that open to beautiful secluded squares is breathless.
As far as shopping is concerned, I have to say I would avoid any San Gimignano shop any time (overpriced and all selling exactly the same items) but if you are looking for something a bit different…have a look at J Gallery: 2 young artists (brothers from Belgium) manage 2 galleries/shops in town where they display and sell their works (and some other pieces). Amazing hand made and unique design jewellery and art pieces. I’ve dragged my boyfriend in a couple of times, hope he got the message!